Date: 22-Oct-2005 – 20-Nov-2005
Location: Contemporary Art Tasmania
Home Again – an exhibition of a range of Tasmanian craft curated by the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery’s curator of Decorative Arts, Peter Hughes. The work selected for the exhibition have two main characteristics. The first is that the use of the object, and hence the interaction of a potential user or viewer with it, has been considered from the outset. This can include particular functions, decorative qualities, the pleasure to be derived from the physical manipulation of the object, its durability and so on. A second characteristic is that the work has not been made specifically for exhibition. That is to say that it has been made for use within an environment over which the maker has no control and in which the object must be able to compete with and complement a multitude of other objects.
It could also be argued that from the early 1980s there was another movement to gain credibility for the crafts by accentuating design over craft and converting craft practices into de facto industrial design practices in which the making became an embarrassing necessity to be disposed of at the nearest opportunity by the use of technology or outsourcing.
What these developments had in common, and is the point at which they have had the greatest credibility, is a critique of the fetishisation of crafts skills that impoverishes by occluding other considerations.
The idea for the exhibition, Home Again, came out of a discussion on Craft Australia’s 2004 online forum, Interact. I contributed one of the several articles commissioned to initiate the conversation and argued for the retention and rehabilitation of the word craft, rather than what I still regard as an inappropriate and misleading substitute, design. Another contributor, Robert Cook from the Art Gallery of Western Australia made the point in the course of the discussion, that the current emphasis on design had served to refocus thinking and practice on the original object of the crafts movement – the making of things at once beautiful and useful. He contrasted this trend with what he described as “bad sculpture” – by which I assume he meant conceptual gallery-oriented craft.
One need not agree with either the designation of the practices in question as “design” rather than “craft”, or with Cook’s characterisation of conceptually oriented craft to acknowledge that his point is an interesting one that deserves consideration. This exhibition seeks to explore his proposition, that the contemporary focus on design is a return to some of the original concerns of the crafts movement, in the Tasmanian context. In so doing, it also explores something of the diversity of forms that this emphasis on design has taken in different practices and media.
At the outset it is necessary to lay one persistent ghost to rest: the bipolar opposition of the functional and the conceptual with its underlying assumption that one excludes the other. I would argue that instead of a linear opposition between these two qualities, an opposition that serves no purpose other than to confuse the debate, that a more complex model in which there are three variables—concept, function and decoration—would be more useful when discussing craft and design. In this model function does not preclude conceptual content; decoration does not preclude function and each may, and most probably will exist in any given work. By its nature, this is an exhibition of work that is most particularly concerned with the decorative and the functional, though it must be emphasised it does not exclude the elusive conceptual dimension.